Sports law

Sports law

Sports law is an umbrella term used to describe the legal issues at work in the world of both amateur and professional sports. Sports law overlaps substantially with labor law, contract law, antitrust law, and tort law. Issues like defamation and privacy rights are also an integral aspect of sports law. The area of law was established as a separate and important entity only a few decades ago, coinciding with the rise of player-agents and increased media scrutiny of sports law topics.

Amateur Sports Law

The "National Collegiate Athletic Association" (NCAA) was formed in 1906 to regulate intercollegiate sports competitions. Membership is voluntary. The NCAA operates along a series of "bylaws" that govern the areas of ethical conduct, amateur eligibility, financial aid, recruiting, gender equity, championship events and academic standards. The NCAA has enforcement power and can introduce a series of punishments up to the "death penalty", the full shut-down of a sporting activity at an offending college.

"Title IX" is an increasingly important issue in college sports law. The Act, passed in 1972, makes it illegal for a federally funded institution to discriminate on the basis of sex or gender. In sports law, the piece of legislation often refers to the effort to achieve equality for women's sports in colleges. The "Office of Civil Rights" (OCR) is charged with enforcing this legislation. This agency implemented a three-prong tests for schools to adhere to: (1) Are the opportunities for female and male athletes proportionate to their enrollment; (2) Does the school have a history of expanding athletic opportunities for women; (3)Has the school demonstrated success in meeting the needs of its students. In 1995 the "Gender in Equity Disclosure Act" was passed to require schools to report annually the information publicly on male-female athletic participation rates, recruiting by gender, and financial support. The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in "Brown University v. Cohen", is an important aspect of litigation for women sports.

Unlike intercollegiate sports, "international amateur sports" are run by a variety of organizations. The "International Olympic Committee" (IOC) is made up of each country's "Olympic Committee", which in turn recognizes a "national governing body" (NGB) for each Olympic related sport. The "United States Olympic Committee" (USOC) is the national governing body for all U.S. athletes in the Olympic and Pan-American Games. The IOC is the international governing body for the summer and winter Olympic Games. A critical piece of federal legislation, the "Amateur Sports Act of 1978", guarantees certain due process rights including a hearing and an appeal for U.S. athletes under the governance of the USOC and its NGBs. The subject of drug testing especially in international sports like cycling and track and field is under the jurisdiction of each sport's NGB and "international federation", the USOC, the IOC, and the "World Anti-Doping Agency". The final arbitrator in resolving drug related disputes is the "Court of Arbitration for Sports" (CAS).

Labor Issues in Sports

In 1967, the "National Labor Relations Board" (NLRB) accepted that players have the right to form unions or players associations. It is now common for professional athletes to organize into associations or unions in order to negotiate "collective bargaining agreements" (CBA) with their sport's owners. Under federal labor law, players and owners must negotiate "mandatory" issues, those relating to hours, wages and working conditions, in good faith. All other issues are deemed "permissive", and do not have to be negotiated. Once a CBA is in place players agree not to "strike" and owners promise not to "lock-out" players. By way of example, the 2005 National Hockey League (NHL) season was cancelled because of an owner's lock-out after the parties' CBA had expired. In 1994 Major League Baseball (MLB) lost half its season and the playoffs because ballplayers went out on strike over the issue of a "salary cap". Historically, the most controversial issues subject to CBA negotiation are free agency, minimum salary, squad size, draft, salary cap, grounds for termination and suspension.

In nearly all professional sports the issue of limits on the use of "performance enhancing drugs"has become an integral aspect of CBA negotiations. Drug policies are not uniform for all professional sports. Typically, each CBA explains the policy regarding drug testing, list of banned drugs, violations, penalties, privacy issues, and rights of appeal. Drug violations may lead to suspensions and loss of salary. The current "BALCO" controversy involving high-profile professional athletes and coaches highlights the allegedly widespread use of performance enhancing drugs in different sports.

"Player-agents", made famous by the famous line from a player to his agent ("Show me the money!") in the "Jerry Maguire" movie, are generally certified by each sport's players association. Once certified, player agents or "contract advisors" may negotiate individual player contracts. Agents that are entrusted to conduct business on a player's behalf owe a fiduciary duty, i.e., a duty of remain loyal, act honestly, behave ethically and act in the player's best interest at all time, when negotiating. More than half the states in the United States currently regulate the activities of player-agents in addition to union regulation for "bad acts". Super agents like baseball's Scott Boras and football's Drew Rosenhaus are frequently the subject of media profiles. The first body to assist player agents in learning the ins-and-outs of contract negotiations, endorsements and media relations was the "Association for Representatives of Athletes"(ARPA). The co-founders and leaders of ARPA, since absorbed into the NFL Players Association, were Professor William Weston (University of Baltimore Law School) and Professor Michael E. Jones (University of Massachusetts Lowell). The late Bob Woolf is acknowledged as one of the first player agents when he assisted Boston Red Sox pitcher, Earl Wilson, negotiate his player contract.

Antitrust Issues in Sports

Up until only a few decades ago, most United States professional sports leagues retained clauses in players' contracts that essentially made it so that the players could rarely leave their original teams by their own choice. These so-called "reserve clauses" were upheld because courts found that these sports leagues did not operate in interstate trade or commerce, meaning they did not fall under "antitrust laws". See "Federal Baseball Club v. National League". This interpretation has largely been eroded today. However, Major League Baseball (MLB) may still retain limited anti-trust exemptions (unclear whether the entire exemption has been overruled by Flood Act because the true extent of the exemption was vague). It is important to note that the formation of players unions for the purpose of negotiating contracts with management is exempt from anti-trust scrutiny under labor law; and the by-product of good faith negotiations between management and players unions in the form of a CBA is also exempt from anti-trust scrutiny.

Tort Law Issues

Until recently, "torts" were never a part of the landscape of sports law. However, in 1975 an Illinois' appeals court established the notion that players can be found guilty of "negligence" if their actions are "deliberate, willful or with a reckless disregard for the safety of another player so as cause injury to that player." See "Nabonzy v. Barnhill". Negligence torts are typically harder to prove in contact sports, where violent actions and injuries are more common and thus more expected ("assumption of risk" or "self-defense"). Spectators can also sue for negligence if their injuries could not have been expected (not "foreseeable") given the nature of the sporting event they were attending. A baseball fan sitting in the bleachers could reasonable expect a baseball could come toward the seat, but a wrestling fan sitting courtside could not reasonably expect a wrestler to come flying his or her way.

Sports' tort law extends into other less obvious areas. Team doctors could be liable for medical "malpractice", a form of negligence, for giving a player a false clean bill of health just so that player may continue to perform. A player who purposefully causes bodily harm to another athlete, coach or spectator may be guilty of committing an "intentional" tort along with a "criminal act" of assault and battery. The law of "defamation" protects a person's good character or reputation. The publication of false information about a well-known athlete ("public figure") may be actionable if it was published with a reckless disregard for the truth or actual malice. The growth of non-traditional media outlets, e.g. web pages, instant messenging, cable, etc. has added a new dynamic to this area of the law.

Closely related to the subject of torts in some ways, is the area of "publicity rights". While the tort of defamation protects a person's reputation, the right of publicity permits a person to commercial exploit his or her likeness, name and image. This area of sports law includes "trademarks, tradenames, domain names and even copyrights".

Business and Academic Aspects of Sports Law

The leaders of the businesses of sports include the "heads" of the major international and national amateur organizations of the IOC, USOC, and their respective NGBs. The "owners" of major professional sports teams ranging from the Rooney family in Pittsburgh to Al Davis in Oakland are all major contributors to the popularity of their respective sports and industries. The "executive directors" of the various players association, including one of the longest sitting union leaders - Donald Fehr - of the MLB Players Association, also have become well known publicly for negotiating CBAs in the best interests of its players. The owners of each professional sports league elect a "commissioner" who serves as that sport's media voice. Perhaps the best known commissioner is the NBA's David Stern. Television and other "media executives" and reporters play a critical role in presenting sports before the public allowing instantaneous unfolding of occasionally civil and criminal sports acts. The so-called "Janet Jackson" wardrobe malfunction during an NFL Super Bowl half-time show raised legal issues of broadcast "indecency", by way of example.

The field of sports law as an area worthy of definition and academic inquiry owes a debt of gratitude to "Professor Robert Berry" who organized the material and taught the first course in Sports Law at Boston College Law School. Shortly thereafter, the late "Robert Waters"(University of Miami Law School) and Professors "Weistart" and "Lowell" contributed substantially to the field. At the non-law school level, the first Sports Law course materials and classes were independently created by Professor "Glenn" Wong (University of Massachusetts Amherst) and Professor "Michael E. Jones" (now at University of Massachusetts Lowell).


#Champion, Walter, Sports Law. 2nd edition, St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Co. 2000. ISBN #: 0314238891
#Dudley, William, Drugs and Sports. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 2001. ISBN #: 1565106970
#Epstein, Adam, Sports Law. Clifton Park, NY: Thomson Press, 2003. ISBN # 0766823245
# Jones, Michael. Sports Law. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1999. ISBN # 0136765459
#Weiler, Paul and Roberts, Gary. Sports and the Law. St. Paul, MN: West Publishing, 1993. ISBN 0314021620
# Wong, Glenn. Essentials of Amateur Sports Law. Westport, CN: Praeger, 1994.
#Yasser, Raymond, et al. Sports Law: Cases and Materials, 5th edition, Cincinnati, OH: Anderson Publishing Co., 2003 ISBN # 1583607994

Further reading

*cite book | last = Gardiner | first = Simon, et al | authorlink =
coauthors = | title = Sports Law|edition= 3rd ed.
date = 2005-12-13 | publisher = Routledge-Cavendish| location=London| isbn = 978-1-85941-894-9

External links

* [ Sports related legal forms.]
* [ Court of Arbitration for Sport]
* [ ASSER International Sports Law Centre]
* [,11065,5151-176858-194076-39408-261619-custom-item,00.html International Academy of Sportslaw Practitioners and Executives]
* [ International Association of Sports Law]
* [ British Association for Sport and the Law]
* [ Sport and the Law Journal]
* [ Entertainment and Sports Law Journal]
* [ Australian and New Zealand Sports Law Association]
* Australian and New Zealand Sports Law Journal -
* [ American Bar Association - Forum on the Entertainment and Sports Industries]
* [ Marquette Sports Law Review]
* [ Derecho Deportivo en Línea]

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